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Jason Seguya is a third-year mathematics student. Photo: Matt Gergyek/Fulcrum

Seguya sheds light on the future of the union’s services and businesses

The Fulcrum is interviewing each of the four University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) commissioners as students head back to class. Student life commissioner Jason Seguya touched on the upcoming launch of the union’s services and businesses, future events and initiatives, and the impact of the Student Choice Initiative on campus life.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

The Fulcrum: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Jason?

Jason Seguya: I’m a third-year mathematics student and I’m the student life commissioner for the UOSU.

F: What does the role of the student life commissioner entail?

JS: I oversaw 101 Week, which has just passed, as well as programs targeting clubs and recognized student governments. I also oversee Zoom Productions, which is on its way.

F: What made you want to get involved with the UOSU?

JS: I used to be a representative with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and during that campaign, there’s a set of concerns I highlighted that I really wanted to address. I figured the best way that I could address them is by being present and actually making an effort to change them. Some of those changes were in regards to the 101 Week code, which didn’t exist at the time, as well as how 101 Week itself would run from different services, businesses and clubs. I wanted to actually commit to the things that I was thinking during that first campaign and actually see change on campus, rather than blowing steam and disappearing a couple of months after. 

F: Was there any hesitation there, knowing you’d be part of starting this entirely new union?

JS: At first, yes. But at the same time, I do love the challenge and it’s been a lot of fun actually seeing things take place and making the genuine changes folks were looking forward to. So although I was scared I don’t regret it at all, it’s been a lot of fun.

F: What have some of your biggest challenges been so far? 

JS: We’ve overcome one major one so far. In 101 Week there were a lot of things that had to be done with limited resources. That led to the approach that we took, which was a lot more collaborative. We ended up delegating tasks that would have normally been within the central student union to each of our recognized student governments, and really working together hand in hand. So I look at 101 Week and I don’t see it as my accomplishment, but an accomplishment that we all kind of came together to build. There’s definitely room for improvement but I think it was a good first step. Now that 101 Week is done, there’s a lot more time we can devote to making the changes that we were looking toward making during the summer and really putting in work for the other aspects of my mandate.

F: What were some of the strengths that came from this new 101 Week system?

JS: You really got to see what happens when students mobilize and actually do with what they have. At first, when we looked at the project, it looked impossible. But then if you saw 101 Week, each and every one of the recognized student governments took on their main projects and helped everything run smoothly.  

F: Were there any other new 101 Week policies introduced?

JS: We rewrote the 101 Week code based on our own understanding and expectation for 101 Week. It wasn’t very timeline based in terms of deadlines to introduce or submit things. We also implemented an appeal process for bracelet removal. The goal is now that 101 Week is done and we’ve now put it into practice, we can make major changes to that code. Outside of 101 Week, we also introduced the clubs code and now I want to devote a lot more time to really defining and developing it so it actually represents the needs and wants and clubs.

F: Let’s talk about the new system for clubs under Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO), which differs from the way the SFUO used to do things. How did that come about?

JS: Hassan (Ahmed), the CVUO president, had approached me during my campaign for the position. I was already showing off CVUO, which was and is an incredible program that had already been running a lot of programs in support of clubs. So there was already full intention to work together with them to really developed what would have been known as the club’s hub and the different services to support clubs. 

When we were approaching the end of summer, when a lot of my work was being devoted to 101 Week there was limited time that could be put towards clubs, which is why I was so grateful that over the course of the summer Hassan and his team worked on making the services that would support clubs. So it felt only fair to not only work together in collaboration but to actually become one. There’s a lot of strength that can come from CVUO, they’ve already done incredible work and I’m so excited to see what they do not only just do it this year, but with years to come.

F: What are some of your biggest goals for this year?

JS: Now that 101 Week is done there’s a lot more time to put a lot more work in terms of what we want 101 Week to look like. During those three months when we were working on getting that project done, it was more doing status quo work rather than being creative with it. So I want to take the time to develop what I would have wanted to see during 101 Week. Another major thing is really developing Zoom Productions to offer those same workshops that we committed to before, as well as developing it as a production organization on campus to support clubs and different organizations.  One of the major media projects I want to do is to remake that video we use during the mobilizing the bystander training. We noticed the video doesn’t have as much diversity as we’d like and it only shows a heteronormative idea of what sexual violence looks like.

Outside of that, it’s still putting pressure on the Jamal (Boyce) situation (a U of O student who was carded and handcuffed by Protection Service in June), finding out ways that we can support and mobilize. We’re working on the replacement event for the Russell Street Panda Game party. We’re hosting a tailgate near campus, location still pending. We’re creating a safe and fun way for folks to have fun before the game. We also want to push for more philanthropic activities over the course of the year. 

F: One of the main mandates of your role is ensuring students have a vibrant campus atmosphere and many say that’s threatened by the province’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI). Do you see it that way?

JS: Absolutely. So when I heard about the SCI I was still involved with the SFUO. We were already starting to mobilize to put pressure on the Ford government. The SCI has a huge impact on the student life budget itself and also caused a huge change in the way that a person in my position will actually organize events, putting more emphasis on fundraising and making our events smaller scale. It’s costing things such as a guarantee for clubs funding, that’s something that we no longer can support. We’re doing other approaches, I’m switching sponsorships to our clubs, so that clubs can actually get funding to kind of offset the fact that there isn’t as much money available. 

But now there’s become a lot more of a need to showcase what this student life budget actually is, what each of our recognized student governments can actually create, what we as a central union can create so folks feel inclined to opt in to our services. So it is unfortunate, especially the impact that it has on what student life looks like and the support that we can give. 

F: Did that had an impact on how 101 Week was set up?

JS: The planning of 101 Week took place before the SCI had come into effect. In terms of the funding we had available, it was more because we were in transition rather than the actual SCI. There was more emphasis on being really, really gracious with how we spent money for 101 Week so we don’t experience a huge deficit or anything like that. Messing up the budget would have a trickling effect over the course of the year, it would have an ongoing effect on services as well as our clubs and events.

F: Do you think the SCI could fundamentally change student life on campus?

JS: It can and it really does have a strong impact on planning and what our events look like, just because now we’re going into it with a bit of an unknown on what funding looks like. It really does leave uncertainty on what student life is going to look like. With that being said, I’m so confident in so many people who are involved with the student movement, not just at the level of the central union but each of our recognized student governments, of being faced with a problem and finding a way to solve it. At the end of the day, we’re still going to end up being able to work with what we have and create a product folks remember.

F: What does the future for UOSU services and businesses look like?

JS: In terms of our services, we’ve now begun our recall for service stuff, so folks are coming back as of this week. The initial idea was to have all services up and running for September, but it did get kind of pushed back. We’re still looking for a September launch. For our businesses, there is a bit more of a delay. We’re still going to be operating three of the four previously existing businesses, that being Pivik, 1848, and Cafe Alt will be reopening, it just doesn’t seem that it’s going to be done as of 2019, it looks like it’s going to be a project done in 2020. That’s more so that we could really develop the businesses so that they run in the best way they can, rather than opening them for the sake of opening a business. 

F: When services do open, are they going to look different than what students are used to? So say shorter hours, less staff, less programming?

JS: The genuine consensus is to offer more support with more staff. The issue before (with the SFUO) was that with limited staff, it only allowed the services to be open specific hours throughout the day, which made them not as accessible. So that’s another we’ve all kind of committed to working on. In terms of the actual breakdown of each of the services, it’s more dependent on each of the commissioners that oversee those specific projects and files. 

F: How was it decided that the UOSU wouldn’t be taking on Agora Bookstore?

This was a discussion that had taken place right at the beginning of our mandates while we were still in transition between the transition committee and our ourselves. It became a situation where, as the UOSU stood at the time, there wasn’t enough money to actually support the Agora. It was very, very unfortunate and I felt for each and every one of the employees who worked there. There were folks would had worked there for 20 years with intentions of retiring in those spaces. It was definitely a heartbreaking situation, especially with the impact it had on the community. There is a commitment to at least recreate a service similar to that and it’s a project I’m still really looking forward to. 

F: Are any of the service centres not going to be opening again?

JS: What used to be known as the Women’s Resource Centre and the Pride Centre have now joined and under the central house of the Sexual Health and Wellness Center. That was so it could be guaranteed funding and viewed as an essential fee rather than non-essential. The University of Ottawa Student Emergency Response Team (UOSERT) has now become a service under Protection Services, rather than under UOSU.

F: Why did that move take place?

JS: For funding, for resources and for support. The way dispatch would usually work is Protection Services and UOSERT would be called at different times to the same scene. Now they’re working together as an organization, they’ll be able to plan what their dispatch looks like and what their first response looks like.

F: What are your thoughts on the provincial government’s changes to OSAP?

JS: It’s devastating to see the way that folks have had to completely switch and change the way that they finance their educations where it’s become an actual thought of, can I afford to stay in school? Do I have to switch from full-time to part-time? One thing I really want students to know is that we stand with you, we support you through all steps through this and we’re going to continue to mobilize and fight. There’s power in student voices, power in coming together.

F: How are you planning on addressing mental health issues on campus?

JS: In terms of the events that we run I want to see more speaker series to really touch on different aspects of mental health, really putting in the understanding of intersectionality and how that affects students and people across the board and stuff like that. It’s a shared responsibility in terms of offering support and making sure folks know they can come to the organization for support on that. We’re in the stages of actually developing what that support looks like, whether it’s through our services, whether it’s through the initiative that we run or through our campaigns.

F: In a previous interview on Sept. 7, you mentioned pushing for action after a Black student was carded and handcuffed by Protection Services in June. Any updates on that front?

Absolutely. There’s still frustration in terms of trying to get involved with the committee that’s now targeted against racism. Myself, as well as a few other recognized student governments, have made attempts to actually find out where those meetings were taking place, if there are any previous notes in the meetings and stuff like that, and seeing ways that we can actually involve ourselves in the conversation. This is not a U of O problem, this is now a community problem. There’s a need for us to work together on it as a community.

There’s still a push on finding out where those meetings are and getting involved with it, whether it’s saying that if we’re not at least not speaking at it, we’re still an audience to see what’s being decided for the community, who is actually discussed amongst the community, and getting involved now that the names of the members of the committee have been released. We’re looking to communicate with them to see that our voice on the ground are also seen and really pushing for the support for students who are involved and who have been affected by this. The issue with different campaigns, especially like this, is that of course there’s heat at the beginning, but it quickly dies out.

F: From your perspective, how did the transition from the SFUO to the UOSU go?

There was a willingness to help with the transition. The previous vice-president (social) for the SFUO did offer any advice and support that she could. A lot of paper documents were lost in the transition, from the contracts that we use to different training we would have offered. So those were the things that really had to be built from scratch. In terms of the transition from one group to the other, there was still that willingness to explain. It was a huge help, in terms of at least navigating where we were in the summer and what needed to be done at those specific times. So it was a smooth transition with that full intention of helping and seeing 101 Week be a success this year.

F: Do you worry students won’t want to be involved with the UOSU because the SFUO left a bad taste in their mouths?

JS: There is a lot of scrutiny for getting involved with the central union or what support for the central union looks like. It’s an idea that we’re under a watch at all times, as we should be. There is now more of a push of showing what student associations and student politics look like. I think a big help through that is pushing for collaboration, not only with different recognized student governments but even looking at organizations like CVUO, really showing there is the intent of collaborating and giving them the space to create what their student union looks like. 

Instead of it being like this is what a student union is, it’s this is the blank slate that we’re given, let’s one at a time work together in rebuilding the different pieces and seeing that it really demonstrates what our community looks like.